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1841, 1942, 2014: The writer’s life changes little

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, design, History, journalism, life, US, work on January 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s oddly comforting, when you earn your living as a writer, to read the words – the pleas, the moans, the rants! -- of other writers long gone, writers whose names are still hugely famous decades, centuries later. The arguments with publishers, the ego-wars of criticism, the fight to earn a living, the “I’ll start my own magazine instead.”

All too familiar, even today.

Yesterday I went to the Pierpont Morgan Library, a tiny, small, lovely museum on Madison Avenue at 36th. Street, across from 200 Madison, where I had my very first NYC magazine editing job, back in 1990.

The show about Edgar Allen Poe closes tomorrow — Jan. 26 — so if you’re in or near NYC, it’s worth a visit. There are lovely artifacts, like original letters and manuscripts, photos of him and of others he inspired.

But I also enjoyed him describing the “magazine prison-house” of paid journalism he longed to flee, back in the 1840s. I can relate!

And then, eager for fame “at once” he writes a fawning letter to writer Washington Irving. Sounds familiar, too.

A gorgeous new show examines the American roots of The Little Prince, the legendary book written by French aviator Antoine de St.-Exupery, first published in 1943 and available now in more than 250 languages. If you haven’t yet read it, I urge you to!

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The links between his book and NYC are quite amazing.

He worked on the book in the studio of Bernard Lamotte on 52d St., now the site of the classic French restaurant La Grenouille. He also rented a house on Long Island and wrote there.

Ann Morrow Lindbergh, writing in her diary, finds the work deeply moving.

The show includes a list of all the discarded phrases he chose along the way for one section; I loved seeing his thought process. Not to mention the sheet of onionskin paper, clearly crumpled and tossed, here flattened and smoothed and framed.

Who among us has not crushed and tossed?

And I loved the three-page typewritten fit of pique, from Nov. 9. 1942, from George Davis, an editor of the era, furious to learn that his translation from French to English has been discarded in favor of another’s:

I let me gentility carry me away in the presence of the exalted aviator -writer and set no price on my services…since the honeymoon is over I suppose the time is here to take the cash.

No contract? No set fee? Overwhelmed by celebrity?

Yup, that too.

Here’s The New York Times’ review of the show.

Hibernate, beautifully — 10 easy ways to feather your nest

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style on January 2, 2014 at 2:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Yes, that headline is a mixed metaphor…

Long-time readers of Broadside know that one of my obsessions loves is interior design, which I studied full-time for a while at the New York School of Interior Design, a life-changing experience.

Before stepping into their classrooms, I thought, “How hard can it be?”

I stepped out, (with a stellar GPA, yay!) with a deep, abiding respect for the true challenges of making any space safe, welcoming, beautiful — and usually on a budget. We learned to mix color from scratch, envision rooms from the floor to the ceiling and design an entire room within a week and learn every iteration of interiors from ancient Egypt to the 20th century in Historical Styles, (which every student calls Hysterical Styles.)

Luckily, my husband allows me pretty much free rein in our 1,000 square foot apartment and is mellow enough to not freak out if he comes home to find the furniture re-arranged, again. After 25 years in the same space, you have to make a few tweaks.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s frrrrrrreezing for the next few months, so staying in and loving your home is a great choice.

Here are ten simple suggestions to help you feather your nest:

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Bring in nature!

Even in deepest winter, there is color and texture out there for the cutting — bittersweet, greenery, curly willow. I splurge every week for fresh flowers, even $5 or $7 for a fresh lily.

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Add some patina

This battered old stool sits in our small bathroom, holding a metal bowl my Dad brought home from Israel — that holds soap, creams, toothpaste. Both the bowl and the wood add a nice mix of textures and age. Even the slickest and most modern space can accommodate something weathered and worn, a bit of history.

Include symmetry and repetition

Here’s a small shelf in our dining room. The shelf was originally deep blue and hung in our bathroom but was the perfect shape, size and scale for this space as well. (Hint: re-purpose! Move stuff from room to room and repaint as needed.) The two pierced lanterns cost $13.50 each, bought at Tao Foods in Minneapolis in October 2012. (It’s why I keep my eyes peeled everywhere I travel; you never know where you’ll find the next affordable treasure!) The pierced sterling salt cellars were our wedding gift from my father. I like how the circles echo one another, as does the pierced metal, one dull and mottled, one shiny.

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Go through all your cellphone snaps and Instagram images — and frame some!

I took this shot in May 2013 while visiting the Grand Canyon. I keep meaning to frame it, but haven’t yet.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Here’s one I did frame, taken looking up a staircase on the Ile St. Louis in Paris a few years ago. It sits a few feet away from the pierced lanterns and salt cellars (repeating the theme of pierced, patterned metal.)

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Combine practical and pretty, whenever possible

When we renovated our kitchen and nearby pantry, I designed a breakfast bar, a spot for our juicer and toaster and coffee filters. I had bought the wooden tray years earlier and found the metal holder in a Vermont antique shop. I had no idea what to use it for, but it all came together nicely.

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If you’re living far from your home town or country, keep a few fun reminders of your native culture in view

I found this funny wooden box in Toronto, on Queen Street West, as well as this great old tea tin, with Peterborough and Toronto on the label — where dear friends live and where I grew up. I use both containers in our kitchen. Neither cost more than $20.

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Splurge on a fabric upgrade and/or welting

This, I admit, was a splurge — but one we enjoy every single day during the fall and winter; (we change our throw pillow covers in the spring and summer.) The sage green velvet sofa from Crate and Barrel is easily a decade old, and the original welting was literally worn through. It looked horrible and I struggled for a while to determine a solution. I went back to my trusty fabric supplier (in Rhode Island, discovered on vacation there years ago), who chose this terrific rust-toned linen and made new finger-width welting for the two back and seat cushions. I sent her the striped silk, (bought here on sale a year ago), and had her make 22-inch throw pillows. I wanted a luxurious mix of fabrics (velvet, silk, linen, cotton) while repeating the same colors: deep red, pale green, rich yellow. Total cost for that fabulousness — less than half the price of a new sofa. Score!

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Add color and pattern, preferably playing off one another

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The John Robshaw napkins were found on sale at Gracious Home in Manhattan, the $13 tablecloth at HomeSense. Purple, gray, silver and white was the color scheme I chose, (in candles, napkins, dishes and glasses) for our Christmas meal. We never use paper napkins. I love the color, sensuality and durability of cotton or linen! Good quality cloth napkins can last for many years.

Customize!

I bought these boring white frames from Pottery Barn and painted them a custom color. I added a museum postcard and gift wrap

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Let your softer side show

I may be a tough old New York journo, but these guys keep me smiling on the roughest days. The bunny was a pre-op gift from Jose. I gave him the brown bear. The battered old white bear has been in my life since I was very small. The pig and elephant were found at Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, Vermont in 1989 or so; they made excellent travel companions, sitting on the dashboard, when I made my first solo trip to the Grand Canyon. (No whining!) The small Steiff black and white bear I’ve had for many decades; I found the small enamel panda last year in a Tucson shop. Jose gave me the wooden walrus and the monkey. My friend Sarah, a fellow journalist in Arizona, sent me the octopus.

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Here are the top 20 posts from 2013, from one of my go-to design sites, Apartment Therapy. You’ll find lots of great ideas and inspiration here.

A beautiful home nourishes us — 10 ways to nurture yours

In antiques, art, beauty, business, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on November 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe
to be beautiful.”―
William Morris
Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin ...

Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), Shanghai Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the few architecture blogs I read is from Alabama firm McAlpine Tankersley. I love their designs, even though the mega-mansions and second homes they are hired to create are far beyond my reach financially.

A recent post:

Architects and Interior Designers are in the business of affecting the physical plane of our world by producing a scape that can be seen and touched – lived in and on.  Integral to its success is the layering of texture, tones, and the reflection and refraction of shades of light and dark.  Depth and scale of shape in measured doses to elicit a calculated response…

Our sensual experiences have a physiological response by stilling our minds, calming our hearts and relieving stresses.

Great beauty has the power to relax and center our energy and emotions.  Lowering our internal pressures free us to see more clearly and calmly.  It is always a goal to create a meditative space that is restorative in nature, a space that you feel better in and are compelled to linger through.

…Beauty can be a retreat for healing.  Luxury is a tonic for the soul.

As someone who has seriously studied antiques, art and interior design, these words deeply resonate with me.

I spent much of my childhood at boarding school — brown metal beds, chenille bedspreads, weathered floral wallpaper, linoleum floors — and summer camp. Living with other people’s institutional aesthetic choices has left me with a fairly ferocious desire to make every place I live in lovely, welcoming and, as Susan writes here eloquently, a retreat for healing.

Journalism is also a business often conducted in atrocious working conditions: noisy, filthy, crowded and/or filled with stress, whether financial or professional. By the time my husband staggers in the door after a long day and a long train/taxi commute, he’s ready to be soothed!

I loved studying design seriously, understanding why some colors and proportions are inherently beautiful and others jarring and wearying. In our color class, we were taught the color scale and how to use shades and tones. In our materials class, we learned the relationships between textures and how to use them safely and elegantly.

It doesn’t matter if “home” is a small dorm room or a trailer or an apartment or a house. It’s what you make of it.

Here are some ways to create beauty in your home:

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The bouquet above cost $30 — a splurge, for sure — but provided enough material for bouquets in three rooms that will last for at least two weeks.

Fresh flowers, a plant or some branches

Unless I’m totally skint, every week includes a bouquet of fresh flowers or greenery from my local florist. No, it’s not a necessity, but what a lovely touch to have even one bright pink gerbera, the tart scent of eucalyptus or some branches of curly willow. I also stock up on Oasis (florists’ foam) which can turn any water-tight container into a vase and frogs (glass and metal holders that fit into a low or flat container), easily found in thrift shops and flea markets. Or — take your kitchen shears and find some bittersweet or holly growing wild.

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I found these pierced-metal lanterns for an unlikely $13 each in a cafe in Minneapolis.

Candles, votives and/or tea-lights

Not a day goes by that I don’t light a candle, or several, usually as we sit down to dinner. It creates a totally different mood from any other sort of illumination. Instead of leaping out of bed on a cold, dark winter’s morning, take five minutes to light a small bedside candle.

Fresh towels or linens

Even a new $5 dishtowel, in a fun pattern or color, can cheer up your kitchen. I find unusual shams, sheets, coverlets and pillowcases like this gorgeous floral duvet cover at Anthropologie and these super towels in a blue and white pattern from Zara Home.

Three or four sources of light per room — and overheads only in bathroom, hall and kitchen

Think about the most soothing and beautiful interiors you’ve been in. They may have been in a hotel or restaurant, where professionals have seriously considered how to create a mood using light and darkness. There are different kinds of lighting, (task, overhead, floor lamp, table lamp) as well as different colors of bulb. Three-way bulbs allow for different levels of brilliance. Overhead lighting — especially fluorescent — is often depressing, unflattering and too dim to be useful. If you can afford it, consider adding dimmers to every overhead light.

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On my desk, I’ve layered a 19th-century woven wool paisley shawl underneath a Peruvian manta.

This hand-embroidered vintage linen tablecloth perfectly covers our headboard.

This hand-embroidered vintage linen tablecloth perfectly covers our headboard.

Vintage textiles

My passion! Few items add as much character and warmth to an interior as an early hand-made quilt, gently worn vegetable-dye rug, embroidered linen napkins or pillowcases. You can easily find vintage fabrics on-line through EBay and Etsy, as well as flea markets and antique shows. If you know how to sew, whip up some throw pillows or a tablecloth.

Scent

It might be a scented candle or lavender sachets tucked between your linens or your sweaters. I love making sachets from vintage textile scraps. (Also great to toss into your suitcase!)

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Lovely flatware

You can find great old things for pennies. We use mis-matched silver plate I’ve found in flea markets everywhere I travel. A bottle of silver polish will restore them to a soft gleam.

A piece of pottery

It might be a spoon-rest or a teapot or a bowl. Having a useful object made by someone’s hands is a great reminder that not everything in our homes has to be made cheaply by overseas labor. I recently wrote to the Ontario potter who made this teapot, which Jose bought for me in Toronto years ago, just to thank him for adding such beauty to our lives.

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Vary the shapes and sizes of your objects and furniture

Is everything you own shaped like a square or rectangle: (sofa, tables, rugs, bed)? Add some curves! A round or oval mirror, a round or demi-lune side or console table, even a long, narrow runner in the hallway will mix things up. An over-sized round lantern or bowl can change the look of a table or chest of drawers.

Pools of darkness, to add mystery

Obviously not in places that need to be very well-illuminated for your safety, like stairs, kitchen or bathroom. But the most alluring spaces have a feeling of discovery or mystery. I found my small, dimmable uplighter lamp at Home Depot for a big $13.05.  This once-dead corner of our living room now contains a round covered table, on it two marble garden ornaments, an antique planter and a pierced metal lantern found on sale at Pier One. The Victorian mirror was an antique store find in small-town Ontario.

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The allure of patina

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, culture, design, History, life on November 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

In our time, we try to be a bit slick. I think there’s value in the roughness of things

- Marcel Wanders, contemporary Dutch designer

Are you familiar with the Japanese esthetic ideal of wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It’s a richly mellow beauty that’s striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time-Katherine Hepburn versus Marilyn Monroe. For the Japanese, it’s the difference between kirei-merely “pretty”-and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful.

An antiques term for the wear and tear you find on old silver or wood is patina.

I love the terms used in the trade for the things that are worn and weathered — pottery is crazed, paintings have craqelure and works on paper end up with foxing.

All these evidences of aging and wear can ruin the monetary value of an object, although — depending on your budget and the item’s rarity — much can be repaired by conservationists.

The Japanese tradition of kintsugi is described well here on this blog, with some lovely photos of cracked pottery repaired with gold.

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I found this early 20th-century (late 19th?) jam pot in a small town in France at an antiques shop. Felix Potin still exists today as a major grocery store chain in France.

Everywhere I go, I seek out things with an overlay of use. I find them in thrift and consignment shops, in antique stores and flea markets, at auction and outdoors fairs. I’ll never be the person living in a super-modern, all-glass/plastic/marble/metal home. I want to see and feel the evidence of the people who made things and who owned and enjoyed them before me.

Here are some items I’ve acquired over the years precisely because their patina, roughness or wabi-sabi add to their beauty for me:

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This small green-painted chair, with a rush seat, probably mid 19th century, is so cracked the finish is now called “alligatored.” I found it at a country auction in Nova Scotia in the mid 1980s; I bought four of them for $200.

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I can’t remember where I found this oval, battered wooden stool, which has three wooden legs. I’m guessing it might have been a milking stool, as it’s so low and very comfortable. We use it as a table in the bathroom.

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I found this old mixing bowl at a small-town Ontario auction for about $10. It’s the perfect size for popcorn!

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This is the weathered gilt frame for a beveled mirror, itself with some discoloration from age, I found in New York City in an antiques shop for $300.

Do you like or prefer old things?

Why?

Attention, movie buffs! Batman’s cape and the Maltese Falcon at Bonham’s auction Nov. 25

In antiques, art, culture, design, entertainment, film, History, movies on November 21, 2013 at 1:16 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you love movies as much as I do, this is the auction for you, to be held in New York City Nov. 25.

You can register from anywhere, then bid online or by telephone. (Don’t forget that auction prices will include an additional 12 to 25 percent added in the buyer’s premium.)

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in the 1941 film ...

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in the 1941 film adaptation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The variety of the 309 lots is amazing, with the priciest object likely to be the Maltese Falcon, the title object — a lead bird — from the 1941 film directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, estimated to head into seven figures.

A few highlights:

– The lacy white cotton nightgown worn by Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”; estimate: $12,00-15,000

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

– A leather bullwhip used by Harrison Ford in the 1989 Indiana Jones film; estimate $20,000-30,000

– A pair of derby hats worn by Laurel and Hardy; estimate $15,000-20,000

Laurel & Hardy

Laurel & Hardy (Photo credit: twm1340)

– A replica pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz; estimate $12,000-15,000

– An Edith Head sketch of Elvis Presley, estimate $1,500-2,000

– A maquette (3D model) of a terror dog from Ghostbusters; estimate $2,000-3000

– A Gotham taxi license plate from the Batman movies, estimate $300-500

– A French poster for A Night at The Opera, by the Marx Brothers; estimate $800-1,000

– A still photo from The Wizard of Oz; estimate $200-300

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (Photo credit: twm1340)

– A pale blue silk pleated negligee worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind; estimate $50,000-70,000

– A revised final draft of the film script for Citizen Kane; estimate $1,500-2,000

– The taupe-colored 1940 Buick Phaeton automobile from Casablanca; estimate $400,000-500,000

Twenty more things that make me happy

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, life, Style on November 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Česky: Granny Smith

Česky: Granny Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– A crisp apple — a Jonah Gold or Granny Smith — sliced, with sharp cheddar cheese

– The huge flock of starlings that flash toward our windows every late afternoon, swooshing into the sky

– A tall, cold glass of beer, probably a weissbier

– A Sunday afternoon nap beneath a woolen throw

– The BBC News theme music

– Re-playing our wedding reception mixtape, which includes the Clash, Sinatra and the B52s

– Wandering the narrow cobble-stoned streets of Manhattan’s West Village

– Buying tea and coffee by the pound at Porto Rico Importing on Bleecker

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– Lighting all the candles for dinner, votives and tapers

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– Balvenie on the rocks

– Receiving hand-written thank-you notes on heavy stationery

– A steaming cup of tea (possibly with a piece of chocolate or two on the side)

– Making my first-ever stuffed pork loin (stuffed with panko, fresh sage, fresh thyme, garlic, onions and chicken broth)

– Late-afternoon sunlight through crimson leaves

photo: Jose R. Lopez

photo: Jose R. Lopez

– The smell of jet fuel — imminent take-off!

– The white Christmas lights on our balcony, lit year-round

– Getting lost inside a great book

– The unexpected arrival of my very own personal cephalopod (thanks, Sarah!)

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– Wearing my burgundy fur headband, a la Lara in Dr. Zhivago

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– Driving out to Coney Island to see a baby walrus, eat Nathan’s hot dogs and wave at the Statue of Liberty with my friend Sarah from Tucson

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Twenty more things that make me happy

In animals, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life on September 14, 2013 at 2:32 am

By Caitlin Kelly

— My black cashmere turtleneck

— Driving a winding country road in late afternoon sunshine

— The soft, white silence specific to fresh snowfall

— The sound that skates make carving into the ice

— Making a delicious meal for someone hungry and appreciative

— Laughing with Jose

—  A glossy, slippery pile of unread British magazines — Vogue, Country Living, World of Interiors

World of Interiors

World of Interiors (Photo credit: qwincowper)

— A glossy, slippery pile of unread French design magazines — Cote Sud/Est/Ouest, Marie Claire Decoration, Elle Decor

— An upcoming flight, preferably to a foreign country

— A large, icy-cold martini; (Tanqueray, dry, olives, no ice)

Tanqueray

Tanqueray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— Speaking French

— The sillage of a delicious fragrance, a crisp classic like 1881, Blenheim Bouquet or Caleche

— Gratefully applauding until my palms sting after a spectacular performance of music, dance or theater

— A fierce hug

— The white French bulldog with the jeweled hot pink collar who lives in my building, who explodes with joy when she sees me and lets me adore her in return

French Bulldog

French Bulldog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— A country auction, returning with a car full of affordable loot

— An hour’s conversation with someone I love

— A stack of new books

— Croissants slathered with raspberry jam

— Paris, anytime, any season

Bonus: staring into a roaring fire in a fireplace, firepit or woodstove

How about you?

The allure of time travel — which century would you choose?

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, education, entertainment, History, life, men, Style, the military, travel, US, war, women on August 24, 2013 at 12:34 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I haven’t yet read this book, by an American author who spent time with some hard-core historical re-enactors who re-make the Civil War on a regular basis.

But we recently had New York City photographer Mike Falco over for dinner. He’s obsessed by the Civil War — an odd pursuit for a Yankee from Staten Island — and has been traveling the U.S. to photograph Civil War battlefields, using a pinhole camera he made himself. 

A pinhole camera requires making long exposures, so that movement is blurred, giving the images a ghostly, timeless feeling.  I love his passion, and his artisanal way of moving backwards in time. He even wears period clothing, and people have greeted him by name as Mathew Brady, the legendary Civil War photographer.

He’s met hundreds of re-enactors, some of them the descendants of the men who fought those battles.

English: American Civil War re-enactors, 1997,...

English: American Civil War re-enactors, 1997, by Rick Dikeman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was extraordinary hearing him describe some of these people and how emotional these encounters and re-enactments are. In the same landscapes, unchanged two centuries on, they’re re-making history, lost in time.

I read a lot of history, for pleasure, hungry to know how we got where we are, politically, economically, philosophically. So I  understand this impulse to try and feel what it might have been like to live 100, 200 or 500 years ago.

I’m intensely curious about what other lives are like — although there is a very large gap between a temporary dress-up fantasy of 19th or 18th century life and living it as it was — without anesthesia, antibiotics or a woman’s right to vote or own property.

I once owned, and wore, a Victorian combing jacket, with its own internal cotton corset. Paisley wool, with drifts of lace and ribbon, it was a glorious garment and I walked very differently when I wore it: more slowly, more deliberately. It was an intimate encounter with the woman who might have worn it then.

For my first wedding, I wore a cotton dress from about 1905, complete with a eyelet underskirt. My maid of honor wore a Victorian dress. I wasn’t trying to be anything or re-create a moment, but had hated every contemporary wedding dress I tried on.

Surprisingly, I felt completely comfortable, and we married in this rivers’s edge chapel from 1840 with no electricity, just a huge chandelier lit with candles.

Here’s a link to the most recent Victorian ball held in Nahant, Massachusetts a week ago, at which guests wore period clothing, much of which they made themselves.

I bet this is part of the fascination with the HBO television series Game of Thrones, which I occasionally watch. And steampunk. I love the Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Canadian actress Rachel McAdams, for their stylish re-creation of period London. The films Moulin Rouge and Ana Karenina did this well, too, although the jewelry worn by Keira Knightley, (Chanel, carefully placed) was entirely wrong for the period. If you’re a historical accuracy maven, it’s fun to see when they get it wrong, or right.

I’ve had two experiences that moved me back in time to the 18th and 19th centuries. One was riding in, and driving, a horse-drawn sleigh through the woods of Quebec, much tougher than it looks!

The other, best week ever, was crewing aboard Endeavour, an Australian replica of a Tall Ship. We slept in narrow, swaying hammocks, climbed the rough rope rigging dozens of times a day to furl enormous, heavy square canvas sails while standing 100 feet in the air on a narrow footrope (just as it sounds.) We handled lines (ropes) so heavy and thick that two of them filled my forearm. I’ve never been more cut, more exhausted or more empathetic to the lives of the men who worked aboard whaling ships and other marine craft. Dangerous as hell!

I fantasize about living in Paris in the 1920s, England in the 1600s, with Elizabeth I on the throne and turn of the 20th century Vienna, when some of my favorite artists — Secessionists like Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele — were alive.

I’d also like to have been a British or American or Canadian woman in the 1940s, when women first poured into the workforce en masse, although the loss of loved ones to WW II would have been terrible to bear.

Red Ensign (pre-1965 Canadian flag)

Red Ensign (pre-1965 Canadian flag) (Photo credit: Lone Primate)

I’m also somehow drawn to Edwardian England. (Hello, Downton Abbey and Parade’s End) but above stairs, please!

Do you ever wish you could time-travel back in history?

Where would you go — and why?

After 99 years, dismantling a life

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, seniors, urban life on June 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crow...

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crowd for bidders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She moved onto our top-floor apartment hallway five years ago, forking over a cool $500,000 for a three-bedroom home. She dressed well, had her hair done, and had a ferocious grande dame quality to her.

She was then merely 95, a former interior designer and survivor of two marriages. She had, as they say, “married well.”

I knew her name. We all did. We also knew her live-in nurses, forever scurrying to the laundry room.

While we were away recently for two weeks, she died.

This week the auctioneer came from the Bronx and his men started packing up the remnants of her life into boxes for sale to strangers: china, crystal, oil paintings, chairs, tables, rugs.

I knocked on the apartment door and asked if I could take a look, as it’s now up for sale and one of the building’s most coveted, large and light, with terrific Hudson river and Manhattan views.

Small world — her grand-daughter-in-law was there and turns out to be someone I see at my jazz dance class every week.

It was a sad, odd thing to watch someone’s belongings being carted away, to be sold at auction in — of all places — Atlanta. She had some lovely things, especially the paintings. There were early photos of her.

One of the many challenges of having no children and no nieces or nephews, is whom, if anyone, to leave our things to — or the proceeds from the sale of those things — when we die. I’m at an age when I still very much appreciate beautiful objects and acquiring them here and there.

But, having had to move my own mother into a nursing home directly from the hospital with only a week to ditch  all her lovely things, (or store them, or move a fraction of it into her small new room), I’ve lived the horror and sadness and snap decision-making of selecting/tossing/selling stuff it’s taken decades of taste, income and pleasure to acquire and enjoy.

The marble bust of her grand-mother? Kept. All her many textiles, collected across the world as she traveled alone for decades? In my garage now.

It meant chattering away to her local auctioneer picking through her stuff as if this was not exquisitely uncomfortable and painful. To him, it was just another day of work. To me, a situation unimaginable barely six months earlier on my last visit to her home, a six-hour flight away from mine.

It also meant going through things with my mother, one of the most private and uncommunicative people I know  — holding up for her decision everything from a black Merry Widow corset to her gorgeous red leather knee-high Cossack-style boots. Her Greek texts and travel souvenirs.

My garage now holds her collection of beautiful Peruvian and Bolivian mantas and Indian cottons and silks, her molas from the San Blas Islands.

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for...

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for sale at her home in the San Blas Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When her mother died, having simply ignored the tedious task of paying income tax on her significant wealth to any form of government for decades, there was very little left. I will not be inheriting anything from my grandmother’s estate. I can visit a museum in Toronto to see her former armoire.

Nor will I inherit from my mother, I suspect, for reasons too grim and arcane to discuss here.

I’ve told my father the few pieces of his art and furniture that I hope he’ll leave to me. But who knows?

It’s all stuff, in the end.

Unlike Egyptian kings, we’re not going to be buried with it.

Have you been through this process?

How do you plan to dispose of your stuff when that day comes?

Live turkeys, dead possums and a very vocal Tea Party

In antiques, behavior, culture, History, life, travel, US on May 9, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Welcome to Virginia!

It’s most definitely not New York.

We’re staying with friends for a few days and exploring the area. Yesterday I drove 90 minutes to Richmond to visit the Tredegar Civil War Museum, on the site of the ironworks that supplied the Confederacy with munitions.

"Ruins in Richmond" Damage to Richmo...

“Ruins in Richmond” Damage to Richmond, Virginia from the American Civil War. Albumen print. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t know that much about the Recent Unpleasantness, as some Southerners still call it, but I learned a lot. I did know, and included in my 2004 book Blown Away: American Women and Guns, that women served in the Civil War as soldiers, being small and slight enough to pass for teenage males. I used a terrific history of this issue, They Fought Like Demons, in my research.

A One Hundred Dollar Confederate States of Ame...

A One Hundred Dollar Confederate States of America banknote dated December 22, 1862. Issued during the American Civil War (1861–1865). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interestingly, and not surprisingly, I did not see a reference to this in the museum, although it might be there — it’s interactive and highly detailed. One of the most compelling sights was the green velvet lined surgeon’s kit, complete with amputation saw, and a battered metal post he would have used to prop up a leg before a soldier was to lose it to surgery.

Another artifact was a black striped silk dress and its wearer, in a daguerrotype, with her husband and baby — four years later she was dead in childbirth. And heavy metal shackles, worn by slaves.

It is one thing to read about this in books, or see it in movies, but to read the words of soldiers and their wives was also sobering.

Made in China, of course!

Made in China, of course!

I ate lunch at a great old diner, Millie’s – a pulled pork sandwich on a cheddar biscuit. I skipped the grits in favor of salad. Each table had its own jukebox.

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Then I visited Carytown, the funky part of Richmond, and scored a handful of antique treasures.

Two of my found treasures

Two of my found treasures

It’s an odd place for someone like me. Every church — and there are many, many churches here — is United Methodist or Baptist, with a few Episcopalians. I have yet to see a Catholic church or synagogue.

The highways are lined with very large trucks driven by farmers in caps. We ate dinner at a local restaurant and 14 men, most of them Hispanic farmhands, came in for $4 taco night. The fields are filled with winter wheat, and the new corn crop is just starting to show.

As I drove, I passed two dead possums and many live turkey, in the fields, on the roadside. They’re big!

The Tea Party has many large signs in bright yellow posted just outside of Richmond — past the Battlefield Elementary School — asking “Are you a Patriot?”

In March 2012, the Virginia legislature passed a bill requiring women who want an abortion to have a sonogram:

The legislation has proved ideologically polarizing, with many Democrats decrying the bill as an invasion of privacy aimed at shaming women out of having abortions, and Republicans heralding it as a way to provide women with as much information as possible about their pregnancies prior to having an abortion.

“This law is a victory for women and their unborn children. We thank Gov. McDonnell and Virginia’s pro-life legislators for their work to ensure that women have all the facts and will no longer be kept in the dark about their pregnancies,” said the conservative Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a statement.

Any woman choosing an abortion is hardly “in the dark” about her pregnancy. She’s pregnant and doesn’t want to be.

I wonder where (if/when) we’ll retire  — and which part of the world we’ll choose.

Our friends have chosen this part of the United States, and it is lovely to look at. But politically and religiously, not my cup of tea.

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